Textures : A Weekend With Words by The Arts House is about celebrating the power and beauty of words. The programmes include Performances and Readings (one of which is yesterday morning’s Just Write Your Legacy : Guided Autobiography for Seniors), Workshops, Talks and Panel Discussions and Exhibitions.
Yesterday afternoon’s The Witness of Poetry : Emotions, Trauma and Healing was conducted by Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingde and Eric Tinsay Valles. I had signed up for this workshop because I wanted to “discover how poetry may offer a powerful means of healing as they excavate buried emotions and express them in crafted language – and how the truth of one’s experience may articulate itself through captivating image and sound”.
A quote from Kon: “Poetry can be deeply moving. As we read or write our lines, the mere activity of attending to our emotions can offer respite and healing. This is a poetry of therapy, where language helps the self do the work of retrieval, engagement, and contemplation. It’s about sitting with our personal history, and allowinig our small stories to freely relate themselves on the page.”
A lot of material were printed and given to the participants, but Kon and Valles only had enough time to go through them cursorily. Kon introduced works by Gertrude Stein and Bertolt Brecht (World War II), Miklos Radnoti (The Holocaust, The Shoah), Edmond Jabes and Fadwa Tuquan (War in the Middle East), and Bei Dao (Revolution and the Struggle for Democracy in China). Valles shared the philosophies of Katherine Schafler (‘all trauma arises from loss and the four ways to deal with it are to understand brokeness, recognising symptoms of brokeness, touch grief and move on’), Carl Sandburg (‘Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance’ – giving witness to hope amid chaos and human frailty), poet Whitehead (‘Trauma survivors face the paradox of describing in language something that exists outside of language’), St Augustine (religious and ethical viewpoints) and Walter Benjamin (scientific pirnciples).
Valles also spoke on the Craft of Poetry – use of figurative language and imagery as a response to trauma, condensing a mysterious experience to an image (sight) in language and setting it to music (sound) through a unique voice (a distinctive lyrical speaker). Boey Kim Cheng’s Kelong is used to illustrate a trauma poem.
I perked up at Kon’s poem, The East Is Red, an ode to inevitability. (The East Is Red, /The West Is Blue, /Elvis is dead, /Confucius too.) In discussing the element of craft for trauma writing where language is the heart and soul, Valles also pointed out that nowadays rhymes are considered old-fashioned and poems can even be in prose form. After sharing Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi, the participants were asked to do an exercise. After drawing blindfolded a picture of a plant, participants are to write a poem about a person.
This was challenging: I can’t draw for nuts, not even with my eyes open, so how was I going to draw with my eyes closed? Out of desperation, I scribbled what I thought were circles anti-clockwise and two straight lines below and a horizontal line right at the bottom without lifting my pen. Surprisingly, when I looked I did see a tree.
I’m not one who can write poems spontaneously, so again out of desperation, I thought long and hard. I panicked when I saw everyone writing away (some even filling one whole A4 sheet). We were given ten minutes and I think more than 5 minutes had passed. I thought of the image, alliteration and rhythmic pattern and came up with one of the shortest poems (another lady’s was one word less than mine): Lush leaves, /Thick trunk; /Providing shade, /Giving shelter. When I looked up, most poeple were still writing. Every participant had to share both picture and poem, and I was really surprised that before I started reading my poem, Valles correctly guessed who I had in mind!
Before the workshop ended, participants were urged to read Rudyard Kipling’s poem A Child’s Garden, Hart Crane’s Logic of Metaphor, poems by Ezra Pound and books by David Brooks.That’s quite a tall order.
A handout on the new local poetic form, invented by Kon and Valles, called Anima Methodi, was also given out.
This has indeed been a heavy, though fruitful, workshop session!